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Financial identity theft occurs when someone uses another consumer’s personal information (name, social security number, etc.) with the intent of conducting multiple transactions to commit fraud that results in substantial harm or inconvenience to the victim. This fraudulent activity may include opening deposit accounts with counterfeit checks, establishing credit card accounts, establishing a line of credit, or gaining access to the victim’s accounts with the intent of depleting the balances.
This differs from check fraud (forged signature or forged endorsement) or an unauthorized ATM or Debit Card transaction in that it involves more than an isolated single act of fraud. Some examples of Identity Theft include:
Account Take Over
Account takeover is one of the more prevalent forms of Identity Theft. It occurs when a fraudster obtains an individual’s personal information (account number and social security number is usually all it takes) , and changes the official mailing address with that individual’s bank. Once accomplished, the fraudster has established a window of opportunity in which several transactions are conducted without the victim’s knowledge using the victim’s personal information. Notice, this involves the intent to take over the victim’s identity as well as more than one isolated transaction.
It can also occur when the fraudster pays employees of various companies and banks to steal account information from the checks that are remitted for payment. The employees will provide their name, address, bank routing number, and bank account number. The fraudster will then order checks from a third-party check vendor, and begin writing checks on the victim's account.
Credit Take Over
Credit takeover is another form of Identity Theft that is becoming more prevalent. It occurs when a fraudster obtains an individual’s personal information (a social security number is usually all it takes) and establishes credit using that social security number. This may include opening credit card accounts or taking out loans without the victim’s knowledge. Again, this involves the intent to take over the victim’s identity as well as more than an isolated transaction.
Data Thefts: A Huge and Growing Threat
From the trusted non-profit cybercrime Identity Theft Resource Center’s annual Data Breach Report:
• 12,250 publicly reported data breaches in the U.S. since 2005
• 7,270 publicly reported breaches since 2015 exposing 1.32+ billion individual’s personally identifying information (PII), resulting in at least 17.7 million known ID theft victims (1.1 million are children)
Most Notable Recent Incidents
• Equifax 2018 breach (145+ million PII, financials, and 11 million DLs)
• Yahoo! breaches in 2018 (3 billion emails) and in 2016 (500+ million accounts, including secret password retrieval Q&As])
• Verizon 2016 breach (1.5 million customers—Fortune 500 use them)
• OPM 2015 breach (21 million SSNs and 5.6 million fingerprints)
• Ashley Madison 2015 breach (32 million users’ PII and financial info)
• IRS 2015 breach (724,000 taxpayers’ records with SSNs and PII)
Other Notable Incidents: Late 2018-Present
• FireEye and SolarWinds in Dec. 2020: FireEye’s detection and blocking tools were stolen during a software update from hacked SolarWinds (impacted 18,000+ government and Fortune 500 companies, and SolarWinds serves 320,000+ organizations in 190 countries!).
• Ladders (high-end-jobs site) breach in April 2019 (13.7+ million users’ PII sensitive info, including employment histories and salaries
• Marriott breach in Nov. 2018 (500 million people, including payment info & 24 million passport numbers); hackers were in there since 2014!
• Facebook data breach in Sept. 2018 (stolen digital security keys allowed full control of 50 million Facebook accounts.
No One Is Immune, No One Is Safe
• “In this information age, identity theft is no longer something you merely hear about on the news in the evening. Most people know someone who has had either a credit card fraudulently opened in their name, checks stolen and used, or a social security number compromised. Clearly, identity theft is everywhere. I have a friend who had his 1040 stolen from his mailbox. Trust me, it did not make his tax season go any smoother. No one is safe.”
Dr. Jim Castagnera holds an M.A. in Journalism from Kent State University, and a J.D. and Ph.D. (American Studies) from Case Western Reserve University. He worked 10 years as a labor, employment, and intellectual-property attorney with Saul Ewing and 23 years as associate provost & legal counsel for academic affairs at Rider University, where in 2018 he received the university’s highest annual award for distinguished service. He also did stints as a full-time law professor at UT-Austin and Widener University Law School.
Having retired from Rider in 2019, he is engaged in a portfolio of activities: President of Dr. Jim’s One-Stop HR Shop, a freelance writing, webinar and training company in the HR space; Partner with Portum Group International LLC, an educational and training organization in the data-privacy and compliance space; Of Counsel to the Wilftek, a law firm specializing in IP; an Adjunct Professor of Law in the Kline School of Law at Drexel University.